Messenger Archive: Summer 2003

Office of Greenways & Trails leads bike trail acquisition programs

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Greenways & Trails receives $4.5 million dollars annually, funded through the sale of bonds authorized under the Florida Forever Act, for an acquisition program.

As part of OGT's efforts to establish Florida's statewide system of greenways and trails, several trails have been acquired under this program.

o The 19-mile West Orange Trail, in Orange County, with over 55,000 users per month, is one of the most popular trails in Florida.
o The West Orange Trail will eventually be a part of the 200 mile planned regional connection known as the Central Florida Loop.
o The Cross Seminole Trail is a 3.7 mile paved trail that has been designated as one of Seminole County's Showcase Trails due to its length, beauty and accommodations for various users.
o The Pinellas Trail, one of Florida's premier urban trails, stretches from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg, linking some of Pinellas County's most picturesque parks, scenic coastal areas and residential neighborhoods. A testament to its popularity, an estimated 90,000 people per month use the trail.
o Not yet developed is the Palatka to Lake Butler Corridor, a 48.6-mile rail corridor through Putnam, Union, Clay and Branford Counties.

The Palatka to Lake Butler corridor is the longest contiguous trail site in Florida to date, crossing flat woods, sand hills and wetlands and passing through several small towns. It crosses eight creeks and comes within one mile of eleven lakes.

The Suncoast Trail was built in cooperation with the Suncoast Parkway, a north-south tollway through Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties. The northernmost section recently was dedicated on April 26 completing an almost 30-mile corridor for human-powered transportation.

For more information about funding availability through OGT's acquisition program, or the above mentioned trails, visit

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Executive Director’s Report...
Who says it’s only about the bike?

by Laura Hallam

In mid April, FBA President Tina Russo and I got in touch with nature, mixing business with pleasure in the woods, waterways and roads of Wakulla County with filmmaker and bike advocate Robert Seidler.

Tina and I became guinea pigs to try out “Robert's Adventure Fest,” a triathlon of sorts that combines hiking, kayaking and bicycling with time during "transition periods" to see and discover local folklore including where the whole Florida bicycle story began nearly 25 years ago.

Robert hosted us for two days at his home at Mile Marker 11 of the St. Marks Trail (just South of Tallahassee). We were originally there to work on the bicycle law enforcement video and PSAs to be produced by Seidler Productions. And on the first day, we really did work.

Robert said he gets some of his best bicycle ideas on the bike so not long after arriving we took a ride on the St. Marks Trail.

Later, we worked on the script and concept of both programs and then hopped on bikes again to ride to dinner at the end of the trail in St Marks at the Riverside Cafe.
We made it back to Robert's place just before dark and spent the evening visiting with his family before retiring. The next day would be a busy one.

We began the day with a few logistical tasks; we dropped bikes off at Backwoods Pizza/Sopchoppy Outfitters in Sopchoppy, the second transition point and location for lunch. (For those of you who are not familiar with triathlons, transition point and time is referred to the location and amount of time when you switch from one event to another.)
We left our kayaks at the first transition point at Buckhorn Creek.

Ideally, the entire trip would be spent using only human-powered transportation, but Tina and I were pressed for time so we reluctantly used vehicles to transport our bikes and kayaks.

Let the games begin

Stage One: The "Games" began with a three-mile hike on the Florida Trail along the Sopchoppy River.
The trailhead is located at a place easily found by Florida Trails Association members but hard to locate unless you know where to look.

Find an expert and treat them well; they’ll love being your guide and often will work for food.
The air was cool and we kept the bugs at bay by lathering up with good repellent.

The Sopchoppy River is as black as ink (in fact the Indian translation for this river is “black river”). We saw numerous birds, habitats, and more.

Though the hike was only scheduled for 90 minutes, we took plenty of water and snacks and stopped along the way for pictures and Robert's narration.

The turn-around point of the hike was located at Monkey Island and there we shared our site with a pygmy rattlesnake to its and our surprise. It just wanted to escape us and we were happy to let it go on its way.

Where the “bike thing” started

On the way by car to Transition One at Buckhorn Creek, where we would begin our kayak trip along four rivers, we stopped at Winky Rice's House, the place where all the Florida bike stuff began. Winky now calls the place home to her husband and three growing boys.

In 1978 Linda Crider, Herb Hiller, and a group of other concerned citizens met at a B&B in Sopchoppy to brainstorm how to begin a bicycle program that would work in conjunction with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

In 1980 Dan Burden was hired by FDOT to begin incorporating the bicycle into the Florida transportation plan. He continued at FDOT for 15 years.

Most of the ground gained for Florida's cyclists is a direct result of those original Sopchoppy brainstormers and Burden's continual visionary efforts.

Sopchoppy—who would have thought?

After Winky's, we took a Treehouse Tour of a 125 square foot home elevated 30 feet above the Sopchoppy River: a haven where paddlers or lost cyclists can find refuge and a cool swim.

Next was a quick tour of Nelson Martin's house which has been under design and construction for 30 years and for the first 10 years had a thatched roof of cabbage palms.
It is a house you have to love with its outdoor tiling wrapped around the house, outdoor shower, local wood, rock and natural elements of construction.

Good thing we weren't being graded for speed during the transition time because nearly an hour elapsed by the time we got to Buckhorn Creek to carry our kayaks down to the water to begin Stage Two of our adventure. No worries because the stories gathered were priceless.

Waterworld and gourmet pizza

Stage Two: We began our journey on Buckhorn Creek, paddling as the river circled wild rice stands and cabbage palm islands.

Over the next two hours we would navigate through the Sopchoppy River, Dead River and ultimately to the Ochlockonee River.

The scenery was stunning and we had the waterways to ourselves, except for nature's residents.

We had parked a vehicle at Ochlockonee River State Park to transport people and gear to Transition Two: Backwoods Pizza/Sopchoppy Outfitters.

BP/SO is the brainchild of Robert and two partners who wanted to start an outfitting business. A restaurant was added to support the outfitting portion until it got on its feet.

Located between Sopchoppy City Hall and the old 1912 bank in a former 1912 pharmacy building, Backwoods Pizza has created quite a reputation for gourmet pizza and great atmosphere.

It has an open kitchen in a fully restored historic building. Robert and partners Nelson Martin and Dave Pierce are still developing the outfitting concept, but are indeed in the business.

Since we were on a first-name basis with the owner, we were able to build our own pizzas so we'd have fuel to begin Stage Three of our adventure. Have you ever had a Greek pizza? I recommend it highly.

Bike time

Stage Three: It was 3:00 p.m. and the projected time that Tina and I had planned to head home. We couldn't bail out now; we were having too much fun.

Plus there were prizes if we finished all three events.
We climbed on a variety of bikes. Robert rode a Bike Friday, Tina her commuter bike and I my mountain bike.
We opted for an 18-mile, out-and-back trip to Mashes Sands on the Gulf.

Mashes Sands is on the south side of Ochlockonee Bay at the far end of Wakulla County. It is surrounded by National Wildlife Refuge and the bay. Fishing is great and so are the views.

We did this by way of county roads that have more animal than car traffic. It is also the corridor of the future Ochlockonee Bay Bike trail.

At Mashes Sands Tina and I ceremoniously dipped our wheels in the Gulf. Then it was time to pedal back to the end of our journey in Sopchoppy.

It was a great day. Any day is great when you can ride your bike. It's even better when you can hike, kayak, and share stories with good friends.

Tina and I bid our farewell to our gracious host and headed home, a little later than planned.

Once more with feeling

About a month later, I repeated this adventure with FBA past president Linda Crider and Office of Greenways and Trails staff members Jena Brooks, Dianne Redd, Samantha Browne, Heather Pence and Dean Rogers.

Additional guides were recruited to share their expertise in birding and habitats.

Robert had tweaked the schedule a bit since our previous trip and even considered cutting some of the transitional story time.

The OGT folks would have none of that; there was so much history and folklore to learn.

They were delighted to spend a day enjoying first-hand the facilities their organization promotes. It was also a great opportunity for me to get to know these individuals and talk about ways FBA and OGT can collaborate to promote bicycling.

Special thanks go to birding expert George Weymouth and habitat experts Paul Johnson and Karla Brandt. Additional thanks to Nelson Martin for his logistical support and tour of his home.

So, who says it's only about the bike?

It's also about transportation reprogramming, getting people back to nature—even if it’s only for a day or a few hours—to kick start their heart, mind, health and, ultimately, economic freedom.

The is just the “most noble of inventions” and it always leads you in the right directions.

Taylor Seidler, Boston University student, contributed to this report.

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South Florida Commuter Services closes a service gap for bicycle commuters

by Kim Giles

SOUTH FLORIDA COMMUTERS face daily frustration as thousands attempt alternate routes, only to be faced with additional stress on the slower thoroughfares.

South Florida Commuter Services, (SFCS), a regional commuter assistance program funded by the Florida Department of Transportation, not only saves consumers thousands of dollars each year on gas, car maintenance and federal taxes but also rewards commuters who help relieve congestion during peak hours.

For the cyclist there is an incentive program called the Emergency Ride Home plan. The plan was designed to be simple and easy to use:

  • Register in the commuter services database as a cycling commuter (800-234-RIDE (7433)). To be eligible, a participant must use an alternative mode of travel at least three times a week.
  • Within two weeks receive taxi vouchers good for a free ride home in the event of an emergency. Each participant in the program receives six free vouchers per year (the equivalent of one emergency every two months).
  • In the event of an emergency, call 1-800-234-RIDE(7433). A customer service representative will activate the voucher and contact a cab for pick up.

A sick child at school who needs to be picked up, inclement weather that prohibits cycling and any of the other excuses commuters have for not using alternative modes of travel qualify as "emergencies."

South Florida Commuter Services and its transit partners aim to close the gap for people who might be willing to give alternative commuter solutions a try.

Tri-Rail, Miami-Dade Transit, Broward County Transit and Palm Tran serve major employment centers in the South Florida Community. Buses and trains have frequent arrivals and departures during peak commuting hours to get people to work on time and stress free. Each is also equipped to carry commuters and their bicycles.

To find out more about these services, commuters may contact each transit partner directly or contact SFCS at 1-800-234-RIDE (7433) for a referral to the appropriate contacts.

Transit options can actually be more convenient and easier than having to fight traffic twice a day. Studies have shown that commuting via transit reduces stress and blood pressure levels and increases employee morale and productivity.

Statistics further show that a car driver uses more energy and creates more pollution in four years than a transit passenger does in 40 years. Traveling by bicycle would be even more energy conserving.

About South Florida Commuter Services

South Florida Commuter Services offers a range of programs geared to encourage use of ridesharing to ease traffic congestion on South Florida's roadways.

Its mission is to improve the quality of life in South Florida by increasing the use of alternative modes of transportation. These services include: carpool/vanpool ride matching, a 24-hour call center with access to the major transit agencies, the Emergency Ride Home program and Employer Transportation programs.

Call 1-800-234-RIDE or visit for additional information.

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Off-road Techniques...
Night Riding

by Rudy Miller

If you have yet to try off-road riding at night, here are a few thoughts to ponder about this increasingly popular sport.
Night adds a new dimension to off-road riding.

You can’t see much.

Carrying a flashlight in addition to your riding lights is critical. If you have a mechanical failure or flat tire, you’ll need some light to try to fix your bike.

Also, a back-up light is helpful in case of failure of your main lighting system or if you have to walk out or if your trip is much longer than you anticipated.

If you enjoy riding in beautiful surroundings, obviously you won’t be seeing much of the scenery at night. So why do people want to ride at night? Perhaps the most appealing reason is the challenge!

Riding fast on a winding single-track with surface obstacles is a challenge in full daylight. The same trail becomes significantly more challenging in the dark because your warning time is much shorter, leaving you less time to react.
Even finding the trail can be more difficult.

With lack of normal lighting, you will feel rather than see many trail surface irregularities.

Another reason why riders choose the night is that this is when wildlife tends to be out of hiding. With a powerful light you can often pinpoint the owner of eyes glowing in the darkness and catch a glimpse before it drifts into the shadows.
You’ll discover that alligator eyes glow red at night, dog and deer eyes appear green and cat eyes reflect yellow.

These animal sightings are much more frequent when riding at night. In the Croom area on a night ride I once saw armadillo, fox, raccoon, deer, alligator and some kind of cat all within a 90-minute ride.

A third reason some ride at night is because they can’t get in enough riding during the day, either due to scheduling problems or because they just like to ride a lot.

Even on the brightest moonlit night, you have to be a little crazy—or foolish, or both—to ride without lights. But what is the best kind of lighting to use? It would be ideal to have a 100-watt spotlight on your helmet and another one below your handlebars but for that much candlepower you would need to carry a car battery on your bike.

To see well enough to ride at average speeds you will need at least a 15-watt lamp.
The commercial varieties designed for this task have lightweight, rechargeable batteries that last about two hours.
Rechargeable is vital if you hope to repeat your night rides very often. These lamps have many options and range in price from about $100 to $350.

Some are designed for use on your helmet and others for handlebar mounting. Some can be mounted either place.
The advantage of the headlamp on your helmet is that you can turn your head to get the light to shine wherever you wish. This is helpful on curves and to view wildlife.

The disadvantage of this light position is that the light source is so near your line of sight that shadows are hidden behind illuminated objects.

This puts you at a disadvantage because shadows help you measure distance, especially the height of objects on the trail in front of you.

A handlebar-mounted lamp allows you to see the shadow cast by an object. I recommend mounting any handlebar lamp below the bar itself. This not only makes the shadows more pronounced by lowering the light source but it also usually keeps the lamp from major damage in a fall and it keeps you from having body contact with the lamp if you do an endo over the bars.

The major disadvantage of a handlebar mounted light is that where it shines depends on the orientation of the handlebar. When you are riding, that orientation is dictated by your need to maneuver and balance, thus you can not use it to see around the up-coming curve.

Also, to light up an owl or raccoon in a tree you’ll have to stop to aim your lamp.

An ideal lighting setup includes both a handlebar-mounted lamp and one on the helmet, but having two requires more battery power and increases your costs.

My schedule is such that on weekdays I usually get my work-out rides in before dawn. Over the years I have had lighting systems fail, requiring repairs before the next day. Often that is not possible, so having a double lighting system ensures one functioning unit while the other one is out for service.
If you are creative, mechanically inclined and willing to try something different, here is a heavy, powerful lighting system that you can build for less money than the easy-set-up commercial devices. You will need the following items:

  • A tractor lamp or something similar from your local car parts store.
  • A mounting bracket; a ground clamp from a hardware store will work.
  • An in-line switch.
  • 24 inches of insulated, double strand wire.
  • A small 12-volt, motorcycle gel-cell battery.
  • A 12-volt battery charger.
  • A pair of wire connectors to connect the wire to the battery.
  • A water bottle cage on your bike frame.
  • Several feet of inner tube rubber.

You can figure out a similar setup to the photo illustration, where the ground clamp is attached upside down to the handlebar with some inner tube rubber to protect the bar’s finish.

Since this ends up having two small bolts protrude above the handle bar, which I think is a safety hazard, I put cap nuts on top. Mount the light’s bracket to the ground clamp before installing the unit.

Attach the insulated wires from the lamp to the battery with the in-line switch installed so you can turn the unit off and on. Ensure that you wrap your wiring so that it is loose enough to allow full turning of your handlebar.

Saw off the upper portion (that which holds the bottle down) of the water bottle cage so that the battery rests on the two flat bars and is kept from sliding down by the still attached vertical portion of these bars.

Wrap inner tube rubber around the battery and your bike frame to hold the battery in place. On the last wrap loop, you can tuck the loose end under the previous loop on a corner of the battery to tie off the end.

I replaced the 4” tractor flood bulb in the lamp with a 35-watt spotlight bulb from GE. I prefer the trail illumination from this and the battery lasts about two hours with it.

Whether you buy a commercially designed system or build your own, don’t forget to charge the battery before you take it on a test ride. Even the commercial units do not come with a pre-charged battery.

Always store your battery fully charged and if it has been a couple of weeks since the last use, recharge again before your evening adventure.

Riding alone at night is not a good idea for reasons I am sure you can imagine. If you are riding with others and your light fails, your friends can help you hobble in using the “piggy-back” or “sandwich” system.

When you “piggy-back” immediately behind another rider who has bright lighting, you’ll need to remember what the trail looked like several seconds before you got there and you’ll need your friend to ride more slowly than usual for your sake.
If you “sandwich” between two lighted riders, you’ll fare a bit better as you can take advantage of the light from behind you.
Under these close riding positions, if your lead rider accidently falls, you become the sandwich meat.

The moral here is to make sure before the ride that your lights work well and last long.

Have fun!

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Sidewalk riding: know the rules

by Dwight Kingsbury

On many major streets in Florida—
especially streets with narrow lanes—people ride bicycles on the sidewalk. If you leave the roadway to ride on the sidewalk, this is what you should know.

Riding on sidewalks is generally prohibited by local ordinance in central business districts. Where not prohibited, it is permitted.

Pedestrian rules
When you ride on a sidewalk or crosswalk, you have the rights and duties of a pedestrian (Section 316.2065[10], F.S.).
You also have two special duties. You must yield to any pedestrian, and you must give an audible warning when overtaking a pedestrian (§ 316.2065[11], F.S.).

Bicycle-specific regulations apply
The “special regulations” which apply to bicycles and do not refer specifically to operation on the roadway, such as the requirement to use lighting equipment after sunset, still apply.

Ride in either direction
Since you have the rights of a pedestrian when you ride on a sidewalk, you may ride in either direction.

At crosswalk locations not controlled by traffic signals, drivers are required to yield to you only when you are already within the crosswalk (§ 316.130[7], F.S.).

An intersection crosswalk consists of the portion of the roadway directly between adjoining sidewalks on either side. The crosswalk may or may not be marked with lines; it may be an “unmarked crosswalk” (§ 316.003[6], F.S.), which is understood to be present (where it connects sidewalks) except when a sign prohibiting pedestrian crossing is posted at the location.

If you are already within such an unsignalized crosswalk, an approaching driver must yield to you, allowing you to clear the crosswalk.

But if you are not already within the crosswalk—if you are approaching a crosswalk on a sidewalk—a driver is not required to wait for you to arrive and cross.

If you arrive at the crosswalk first, and an approaching driver has time to yield to you, you may enter it.
However, you should make sure the driver has seen you. (Drivers are less likely to notice a cyclist riding on a sidewalk, especially a cyclist riding in the direction opposite that of adjacent roadway traffic.)

At signalized intersections
At a signalized intersection, you must obey the instructions of any applicable pedestrian control signal. That is, you may start to cross a street in a crosswalk ONLY during a steady “WALK” phase, if one is displayed.

If no pedestrian signal is provided, you may proceed in accordance with the signal indications for the parallel roadway traffic flow (§ 316.084, F.S.). You must ride on the right side of the crosswalk.

Alleys, driveways and private roads
A different rule applies at sidewalk crossings of alleys, private roads and driveways.

A driver emerging from an alley, building, private road or driveway is required to stop immediately prior to entering the sidewalk or “sidewalk area” and must yield to “pedestrians…so close…as to constitute an immediate hazard” (§ 316.125, F.S.).

How close would a cyclist have to be to constitute an “immediate hazard”? At many driveways, an exiting driver’s sight triangle is limited by walls, fences, shrubbery, signs, etc. A cyclist riding at 15 mph is traveling 22 feet per second.
Since drivers are trained to look left, right, left in preparation for entering a roadway, and require time to react, a driver's view of a cyclist approaching from the right at this speed may be blocked until the time when the driver's attention is concentrated on the view to the left and the driver (who has not noticed a conflict) is beginning to accelerate across the sidewalk or sidewalk area.

As a practical matter, then, even careful drivers sometimes have difficulty yielding to sidewalk cyclists approaching from the right who are so close as to “constitute an immediate hazard” at such locations.

A sidewalk cyclist should not assume that drivers in driveways will yield to him.

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Beautiful Big Oak Trail

by Rudy Miller

There is a special ambiance, bicycling along the silent banks of the Suwannee River as its reflective, dark waters meander slowly toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Off-road trails along these river banks twist and turn, drop and rise as they yield glimpses of the majestic river. One of my favorite such rides is on the Big Oak Trail just across the Suwannee River from Suwannee River State Park, which is north of Live Oak, Florida.

You can find the trail by riding out of the park entrance, turning right then turning right again on the old highway bridge over the river just beyond the State Agricultural Inspection Station.
This takes you to a small park where the town of Ellaville once stood. The trail heads north from there.

Going east out of this park several hundred yards takes you to a huge spring that flows into the Withlacoochee River just before it joins the Suwannee.

From this swimming hole you can see across both rivers to the high banks beneath Suwannee River State Park.

Ellaville Springs is a favorite cooling off spot after riding the 12 or so miles of the trail.

The Big Oak Trail hugs the west bank of the Withlacoochee River for a few miles heading up stream out of Ellaville Park before it crosses this river on a road bridge.

Then the trail winds south along the opposite river bank until it reaches the Suwannee (across from Ellaville Springs).

Here the trail continues north again, only this time along the river’s westerly bank. Eventually the trail crosses back over the bridge and down along the Withlacoochee River back to Ellaville Park.
The singletrack trail is in good condition and well-marked and the views spectacular.

If you want a guided tour, the Suwannee Bicycle Association offers such rides at their Dog Days Peddle & Paddle event August 22-24, 2003, held at the Suwannee River State Park, or at the Florida Fat Tire Festival held in White Springs, October 31-November 2 this year.

They also offer guided rides on this trail at the Suwannee Bicycle Festival held in early May each year.

Further information is available on line at

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Motorcycle club provides margin of safety for bicyclists

The Safety Escort Riders of Florida (SERF) is a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who volunteer their time to provide safety support for various charity and bike club rides.

You may have seen them patrolling an organized ride wearing white shirts with a large yellow diamond-shaped logo on the back.

The group was formed in 1999 as a spin-off of the Jacksonville Beaches chapter of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association (GWRRA). A few years earlier, the chapter had been looking for a charity that they could support on a regular basis.

The daughter of one of the members had multiple sclerosis so the local MS Society office was contacted to see if any help could be offered. The MS Society needed better safety patrols for several of their bicycling events so the chapter agreed to provide a number of motorcycles to patrol the course.

They continued to do so for a couple of years until they discovered that the GWRRA did not sanction such rides as chapter events. None of the members who had been participating wanted to quit so they formed a separate group to concentrate only on escort rides and named the group the Safety Escort Riders of Florida.

Since then, the group has grown from a handful of members to over 40, riding a variety of makes and models of motorcycles.

Their schedule has expanded to include a number of annual bicycle club rides, weekly bicycle shop training rides, the bicycle portion of local triathlons and even the Jacksonville Marathon. Demand for their services has grown to the point where it is impossible to provide support for all the requested events and still have time for other things on weekends.

Almost all SERF riders are CPR and first aid certified and carry first aid supplies on their motorcycles. In addition, they carry extra water, tire patch kits, air pumps and tools to assist riders in need.

All of the motorcycles have citizen's band (CB) radios for communication with rest stops and between motorcycles. Recently, several of the motorcycles have added custom-designed tow bars that allow them to pick up a rider and tow their bicycle to the nearest rest stop.

Although the SERF riders are reimbursed a small amount for their gas when patrolling non-charity rides, all costs for participating in charity rides are borne by the rider. They keep coming back because of the friendly reception they get from the cyclists. According to the bikers, the expressions of thanks from the cyclists make it all worthwhile.

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Panama City bike routes show signs of improvement

FBA grant money helped fund new signage for the Cove bike route in Panama City. FBA awarded a matching grant to the Panama City Flyers for the project. Funds will reimburse the city for manufacturing and distributing the signs.

Henry Lawrence coordinated the effort.

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This Issue:

Bike Trail Acquisition


Commuter Services

Off-road Techniques

Rules of Sidewalk Riding

Big Oak Trail

Safety Escort Riders

Panama City Signs

South Florida Odyssey


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